17 hours of comments continue to play before tonight’s vote on Atlanta police training center

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

UPDATE: Atlanta City Council approves police training facility at old Atlanta prison farm

Atlanta residents called in over two workdays’ worth of comments on Labor Day related to the proposal to build a new training facility for the city’s police officers and firefighters in southwest DeKalb County.

The 1,166 comments from the public — totaling 17 hours — are being played over the course of two days, ending today, meaning the City Council will not take a vote on the issue until later this afternoon or evening.

The comments were played until around 10 p.m. Tuesday night, and resumed Wednesday at 9 a.m.

Today’s closely watched vote follows weeks of debate over the proposal to lease 85 acres of forested land off Key Road in unincorporated DeKalb County to the Atlanta Police Foundation, which is seeking to build a new training center for Atlanta’s first responders. Designs show the facility would include classrooms, a shooting range, space for explosives training and more. The site is the location of the old Atlanta prison farm.

The current police and fire training facilities are in poor condition, and the police foundation and other supporters say the new center would help with recruitment and retention.

“There’s a lot of emotion involved. But these men and women deserve a new public safety training center,” one resident said in a comment Tuesday.

The debate and pushback has gotten so intense that protesters showed up in the neighborhood of a member of Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ cabinet Monday.

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

The City Council vote was delayed for three weeks after several council members said they wanted to gather more information and solicit more input from the public. Councilmember Natalyn Archibong organized an informational meeting last week and said over 14,000 residents joined by phone at one point.

Groups opposing the proposal continued to protest over the weekend, holding events at the World of Coca-Cola downtown and along the Beltline.

The South River Forest Coalition sent a letter to the City Council Monday urging them to negotiate a Community Benefits Agreement for the project. The Sierra Club Georgia Chapter urged the council to vote against the proposal. And the Atlanta Democratic Socialists of America published a petition signed by over 1,000 people opposed to the plan.

Near the Decatur home of a top Bottoms administration official, protesters rallied Monday afternoon after a flyer advertised the “[expletive] Cop City Labor Day BBQ.”

Resident Bill Dishman told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that about 25 to 30 people were protesting near their neighborhood with signs that said the staff member “betrayed them.” Another neighbor, Ravi Chawda, said two DeKalb County police vehicles were parked in the neighborhood during the protest. A spokesperson for DeKalb police said officers were “patrolling the peaceful event.”

Two residents who declined to be named said some of the protesters also posted signs along the employee’s yard.

A spokesman for Bottoms, who supports the new facility, admonished the demonstration in a statement Tuesday.

“While all are entitled to their own thoughts on policy, it is reckless and inappropriate to potentially endanger the family of a public official in such a manner. It is our hope that cooler, rational heads prevail in the dialogue surrounding the public safety training facility,” the spokesman said.

At the protest on the Beltline, near the Old Fourth Ward skate park, protesters referenced the police foundation, chanting, “Hey APF, back off.”

“The thing that we felt that we could do that would be most strategic and most important is to ... tell the APF to back off, and to let people know that these sort of machinations of city government were happening and were bypassing the will of the people,” said Seth Roseman with the Sunrise Movement, a youth movement focused on fighting climate change.

Near the event’s end, organizers displayed a large banner that read “City Council, stand with the people, not the Atlanta Police Foundation.”